Dog Bite Statute

BPS is here to serve our clients during this COVID-19 crisis. Pursuant to Governor Lamont’s Executive Order, legal services are essential services. Whether or not we are in our offices, Brown Paindiris & Scott, LLP Lawyers are available by email, phone and video conference. Read More.

July 24, 2009

Strict Liability upon Owner or Keeper of Dog that Bites

Connecticut's Dog Bite Statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-357, imposes strict liability upon the owner or keeper of any dog that does damage to the body or property of any person. If the dog's owner or keeper is a minor, the parent or guardian of the minor assumes any liability for the damages caused by the dog.[1] The purpose of the statute was simply to remove the prerequisite to recovery under common law that the owner or keeper have knowledge of the dog's ferocity or mischievous propensity.[2]

The term "keeper" is statutorily defined as follows for the purposes of § 22-327: " 'Keeper' means any person, other than the owner, harboring or having in his possession any dog." Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-327 (6). To apply this definition, its own essential elements must first be identified and defined. The term "owner" as used in this definition and in the text of § 22-327 has no statutory definition of its own or other special or technical meaning. Instead, it simply means the person to whom the dog belongs, in the sense that he has title to it and may lawfully have and hold it as his own personal property.[3] A person "harbors" a dog when he gives it lodging, shelter or refuge.[4]

A person becomes a keeper of a dog only upon the exercise of some dominion or control, or the acceptance or exercise of some responsibility for care of the dog. A landlord is not a keeper and generally has no liability for damages caused by a tenant's dog, unless the landlord cares for the dog or harbored it in a common area.[5] Auster v. Norwalk United Methodist Church,[6] the appellate court concluded there was insufficient evidence to establish that the church was a "keeper" under § 22-357. The employee was solely responsible for the care of his dog, which resided only in the employee's living quarters. Accordingly, the church did not harbor the dog, nor did it possess the dog. Although it owned the premises, control over the premises did not convert it into a "keeper" of the dog for purposes of statutory liability. The landlord's mere acquiescence in the dog's presence within the leased premises, unaccompanied by any evidence of caretaking of the dog or actual control over its actions, cannot afford a basis for the landlord's strict liability as a keeper under the statute.[7]

The injured person must prove that at the time of the injury, the plaintiff was not committing a trespass or other tort, and also was not teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog. These are two exceptions to the imposition of strict liability on the owner or keeper of a dog. The courts have interpreted the first exception to remove liability not when the plaintiff commits a mere technical tort, such as an unauthorized entrance/trespass onto land, but when the plaintiff does something to arouse the dog's natural inclination for protection.[8] As to the second exception, the clause in the statute denying recovery to a plaintiff who was teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog refers to conduct which (a) is of such a nature that it would necessarily antagonize the dog and therefore cause it to make an attack upon the injured party, and (b) is improper in the sense that it is without justification.[9]

Even if the dog bite statute does not apply, the injured party may still recover under the common law upon proof of negligence.[10] The advantage of the statute, however, it that removes the necessity of proving scienter and the defendant's lack of due care in restraining or keeping the dog.[11] Other grounds for liability could be negligence per se, based on violating a leash law re dog under control, a dog trespass law, or a prohibition against dogs running at large.

[1] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-357. Damage to person or property.

"If any dog does any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or, if the owner or keeper is a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, shall be liable for such damage, except when such damage has been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog. If a minor, on whose behalf an action under this section is brought, was under seven years of age at the time the damage was done, it shall be presumed that such minor was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog, and the burden of proof thereof shall be upon the defendant in such action."

[2] Maccarone v. Hawley, 7 Conn. App. 19 (1986), citing Granniss v. Weber, 107 Conn. 622, 625 (1928). See also, Annot., Modern Status of Rule of Absolute or Strict Liability for Dogbite, 51 A.L.R.4th 446.

[3] Simmons v. Welch, 48 Conn. Supp. 564 (2003); McAdams v. Starr, 74 Conn. 85, 86-87 (1901).

[4] Falby v. Zarembski, 221 Conn. 14, 19 (1992).

[5] See e.g., Annot., Landlord's Liability to Third Person for Injury Resulting From Attack on Leased Premises by Dangerous or Vicious Animal Kept by Tenant, 87 A.L.R.4th 1004; Annot, Who "Harbors" or "Keeps" Dog Under Animal Liability Statute, 64 A.L.R.4th 963.

[6] Auster v. Norwalk United Methodist Church,, 94 Conn. App. 617, cert. granted in part, 278 Conn. 915 (2006).

[7] See Buturla v. St. Onge, 9 Conn. App. 495, cert. denied, 203 Conn. 803 (1987).

[8] See Verrilli v. Damilowski, 140 Conn. 358, 363 (1953).

[9] See, e.g., Funk v. Bannon, 148 Conn. 557, 560 (1961); Kelley v. Killourey, 81 Conn. 320, 325 (1908).

[10] Gretkowski v. Coppola, 26 Conn. Supp. 294, 296 (1966).

[11] See Verrilli v. Damilowski, 140 Conn. 358, 360 (1953).